After my illuminating visit to the Baba Bling! exhibition, I went over to the SMU Concourse where the Peranakan Festival 2009 was being held. The university campus on a long holiday weekend was totally quiet on the surface -but under the buildings was a bunch of babas and nonyas wandering around eating pohpiah and ayam buah keluak, buying bling and kebayas at the Biggest and Best BaBazaar ever!
It so happened I got there just a few minutes before the Opening ceremony, so there were charming children singing songs and then an angklung group (dressed in multi-ethnic costumes) gave us a song or two. But the highlight of the performances had to be the two-man skit. Or should I say, the two-men-in-drag skit. Traditionally, men have taken up major female roles in peranakan theatre, typically that of the matriarch, and other carefully selected characters.
The skit was partly in English, partly in Baba Malay patois. The men played two female friends, one of whom had just consulted a fortune teller on why she hadn't gotten married. It was not exactly a refined presentation - dealing with an assessment of his/her charms, how as a virgin he/she did not want a husband who had been married before (second hand goods whereas she was first hand) - and that maybe is why these parts were taken by men. Not appropriate for such conversation to be uttered from a female actress (not to mention the accompanying gestures)? Needless to say, the performance was extremely well-received by members of the audience.
After the performances, I wandered around the shops and marvelled at the fun Baba-inspired artworkks. Also bought a series of charming note cards. A number of the vendors came from Malacca, KL and Penang. A good thing, coz the small Singapore market just can''t support too many shops specialising in Peranakan stuff. At long last, I also bought a kebaya from a Penang-based kebaya maker. I'm truly excited about this! I selected the cloth for the kebaya and sarong, and am going to get final fitting in two weeks when she comes back to Singapore. Can't wait to receive my completed kebaya.
The "Little Nonya" series certainly raised a lot of awareness about Babas and Nonyas. Some credit it with "reviving" Peranakan culture amongst the younger Peranakans. But maybe the better comparison is with the SMU campus - all seeemed quiet on the surface, but a dynamic culture beneath.